Want to build a longbow but don’t know how? Let me show you the quick and easy way that I do it.
Most of these tools can be substituted for whatever you have on hand to work with:
Saws (I use a cheap table saw and a coping saw)
tillering stick and tillering string (you could make these yourself if you wanted to)
Scraper (not totally necessary)
Something to measure with
Wood (To keep it simple I use this hickory bow core)
A bow string to fit your bow
Some sort of finish (I use Minwax and Deft)
Lets get started. First we will need to draw the bow’s dimensions on the bow core. I have attached some diagrams that will give you a good starting point. These measurements work just fine for a 50-55 pound bow.
Using your pencil and straightedge layout the dimensions for the limbs on your bow core. Remember to measure from the BACK of the bow. Now, cut out the limbs using your saw of choice . Be sure to stop a couple of inches short of the handle area. Finish the cuts using a coping saw cutting on a radius to the handle area. These radii are called the fades.
Next, using your saw, rasp, sandpaper, or what ever works for you, round off the edges of the limbs on the belly side. This is to reduce stress on the limbs. Then use your scraper, rasp, or sandpaper with a sanding block (scrap piece of wood) to smooth out the belly of the limbs and also thin them. Be sure to keep the belly flat and to go the entire length of the limb. This step is called floor tillering. You check the floor tiller by grasping near the tip of the upper limb with one hand and the handle with the other hand. Now brace tip of the bottom limb against the floor and apply pressure at the handle. Once you have thinned the limbs enough that they bend about 5 inches, it’s time to begin the long string tiller. But first you need to file in the string grooves. Measure 1 ½ inches from the limb tip, then mark for your string grooves. The 1 ½ inches gives enough room for a bow stringer to be used. How the string grooves are done is really up to you. I make them by holding a chainsaw file at about a 45 degree angle and filing just deep enough to hold the string safely.
In order to start the long string tiller we will need two things. A tillering string and a tillering stick (also called a tillering board).
Start by taking a suitable length of tillering string and tying a couple of loops in it. To do this, make a loop with the end of the string and make a square knot with it. Do this with the other end so that the tillering string is a little longer than the bow. Put the string on the bow and place the bow on the tillering stick. Make sure to keep the bow center on the tillering stick so it doesn’t fly off and hit you when you pull the string (it does happen and it does hurt, I know). The tillering stick will have grooves cut into it for holding the string. Pull the string so the limbs are bending 4 or 5 inches and place the string in the nearest groove. Now turn the whole thing upside down so that base of the tillering stick is pointing straight up into the air, place your work on the edge of the workbench or whatever you are using as a working surface, and place a clamp to either side of the tillering stick on the handle itself so that you will have access to both of the limbs of the bow.
Before we move on let me tell you about a neat little tillering aid that you can make with a piece of scrap wood and a screw. All you have to do is take a rectangular shaped piece of scrap wood maybe 4 to 6 inches long by 1 ½ to 2 inches wide by about ½ to 1 inch thick. Now run a screw through the center of it so that you can just feel the tip on the other side. That’s it! It isn’t fancy but it is very handy.
Now place that high tech tool that you made on the belly of one of the limbs. Apply a little pressure and slide it all the way up and down the limb. It should leave scratch marks on the limb in the areas that you need to remove wood. The areas marked are called stiff spots. If it didn’t leave any scratch marks, turn the screw so that the tip sticks out just a tiny bit more and try again. Then, using your rasp or scraper, just remove the scratches. Do not remove wood from the unmarked areas. Then, take a couple of passes going the full length of the limb. Now stretch the wood fibers. To do this just unhook the string from the tillering stick and let the limbs relax, then pull up on the string so that the limbs flex just a few inches. As your tillering progresses, you will flex the limbs a little further each time. Do this about ten times, then place the string into the next notch in the tillering stick and repeat this process until your limb is bending evenly with no stiff spots. Once the limb is bending evenly, remove wood the entire length of the limb as you tiller. Check the limb periodically with your tillering tool and make corrections as needed. Now repeat this process on the other limb.
At this time you may find that one limb is bending more than the other. To take care of this, simply tiller the stiffer limb until both limbs are bending the same amount. Now continue tillering making sure to keep both limbs bending evenly. Once the limbs are bending several inches it is time to shorten the tillering string.
To do this remove the tillering stick, remove the clamps and remove the string. Then shorten the string so that when the bow is strung, there is about a 3 to 4 inch gap between the handle and the string (this is called low brace height). Return the bow to the tillering stick, clamp it back down and continue tillering until you have the bow bending several inches again.
When you have reached this point you can either shorten the tillering string once more so that it is the same length as your bow string, or you can just string the bow with its regular bow string. Return the bow to the tillering stick, clamp it back down, and continue tillering until you have reached your desired draw weight at your draw length. If you plan on sanding the bow before applying the finish, you will want to leave the draw weight about 3 to 5 pounds heavy.
To check your draw weight you can use a bathroom scale. To do this, place the tillering stick on the scale, hang the bow on it by the string, zero out the scale then push downward on the bow. Never pull the bow above your desired draw weight and/or draw length.
At this point you can just round off the edges of the handle area and just shoot off hand or you can cut out a shelf and shape a custom handle. I have included a link to a very good template for cutting out the arrow rest and handle. If you choose not to use the template, just make sure you don’t cut out so much that you weaken the bow and it breaks.
Now go out and shoot the new custom bow that you just made! It’s always a good idea to shoot your new bow before applying a finish so that you can make any adjustments that you might want.
Have fun and be safe!
If you have any questions on bow making, I have found Tradgang.com’s Bowyer’s Bench to be a very useful place to get information.